Patients that conduct digital doctor visits at one of the nation’s largest health systems do so more on their smartphone than their desktop computer.
Patients that conduct a telehealth visit with a physician at Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland-based managed healthcare system with 12.2 million health plan members, 216,119 employees, 22,013 physicians, 58,345 nurses, 39 medical centers and 684 medical facilities, also keep video doctor visits relatively short and to the point.
Recently, researchers at Kaiser studied the characteristics of 210,383 telehealth visits physicians conducted over a two-year period from 2015 to 2017. The research found that 77% of all Kaiser telehealth visits conducted by 2,796 Kaiser doctors were for encounters involving general medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, after-hours care and psychiatry. More than 90% of the 152,809 patients seeing a Kaiser doctor online through a secure video connection also has been in for a regular office visit at least once in the past year.
Kaiser’s findings, which Kaiser researchers recently posted in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that patients use and prefer their smartphone to see the doctor online. Over the two-year period, 74% of all video doctor visits were conducted on a smartphone, compared to 20% for desktop computers and 6% on tablets.
Physicians and patients also didn’t drag out the visits—the median time for a digital visit was about 8 minutes. “Overall, 66% of scheduled visits were successfully connected,” Kaiser health researcher and primary author Mary E. Reed wrote in the letter. “Reassuringly, in surveys of patients who did not connect to the video visit, most had changed their mind or communicated with the clinician in another way instead.
Patients seemed very satisfied with the quality of their video doctor visit with 93% of 1,274 patients surveyed saying the digital session met their needs. While many commercial telehealth service providers use their own internal providers to see any and all patients online for a one-time only visit, many Kaiser patients conducted digital sessions with their own primary care physician. “Among 81,549 adult primary care video visits, 70% were with the patient’s own primary care provider,” Kaiser says.
Despite high satisfaction rates, telehealth visits still only account for a small portion of Kaiser’s annual volume of doctor visits, which totaled more than 44 million last year, according to Kaiser. “Scheduled video visits were used by more than 60% of clinicians with less than 5% of total patients, amounting to less than 1% of all office visits,” Kaiser writes in its letter. “Further research is needed to examine continued adoption over time. Still, together with positive patient-reported experiences, our findings show the feasibility and growing adoption of video visits integrated with ongoing clinical care.”
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